January 15, 2010

1967: Packers Defeat Chiefs in 1st Super Bowl

The merger between the NFL and AFL that was announced in June of 1966 was set to take place in stages. Final merger into an enlarged National Football League was to take place in 1970; a common draft and interleague preseason games would occur in 1967. But the first major occurrence was to be a game between the league champions following the ’66 season.

What would officially come to be known as Super Bowl I was already being popularly referred to as the “Super Bowl” when the first was held on January 15, 1967. At the time, however, the proper name was the AFL-NFL World Championship Game. It was played on a sunny day at the Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles before a non-sellout crowd of 61,946 and was televised by two networks. It was also widely assumed that the NFL champion Green Bay Packers would likely defeat the AFL’s Kansas City Chiefs, but of course no one could truly know, adding to the element of curiosity.

Green Bay had led the Western Conference with a 12-2 record under Head Coach Vince Lombardi, and defeated Dallas in a close contest for the older league’s title. It was the second straight championship for the Packers and fourth of the Lombardi era that had commenced in 1959. QB Bart Starr led the NFL in passing and threw just three interceptions on the season. FB Jim Taylor and HB Paul Hornung were showing signs of age and wear (Hornung sat out the postseason), but were ably supplemented by HB Elijah Pitts and high-priced rookies HB Donny Anderson and FB Jim Grabowski. But the veteran core on both offense and defense provided a solid, stable team that was used to winning.

It was fitting that the Chiefs represented the AFL, since their owner, Lamar Hunt, was also the league’s founder. Coached by Hank Stram since the franchise’s conception, they handily won the Western Division with an 11-2-1 tally and defeated Buffalo, the team that had won the previous two AFL titles, in the Championship game. Solid on both sides of the ball, they also had their league’s top passer in QB Len Dawson. Flanker Otis Taylor and split end Chris Burford were dependable receivers, and rookie HB Mike Garrett provided speed to the outside to supplement FB Curtis McClinton and HB Bert Coan. Most notable on the defense were DT Buck Buchanan, LB Bobby Bell, and FS Johnny Robinson.

The first casualty of the day was Green Bay split end Boyd Dowler, who reinjured a sore shoulder while blocking on the second play of the game and didn’t return. However, veteran replacement Max McGee (pictured at top), who had caught only four passes during the ’66 season, scored the first touchdown in Super Bowl history about nine minutes into the first quarter when he reached back to snag an underthrown pass from Starr while running a post pattern and ended up with a 37-yard TD.

The Chiefs, effectively utilizing their “floating pocket” and play-action passes that kept the Packers defense guessing, drove 66 yards in six plays during the second quarter to even the score. Dawson threw key passes to Garrett and Taylor, and the touchdown came on a seven-yard pass to McClinton.

Green Bay came right back with an 11-play drive that included passes by Starr for 10 yards to McGee in a third-and-six situation, 15 yards to flanker Carroll Dale on third-and-ten, and 11 yards to TE Marv Fleming on third-and-five. Jim Taylor ran the final 14 yards around the left end for the touchdown and a 14-7 lead.

Kansas City wasn’t done yet, moving 50 yards in five plays that ended with a 31-yard field goal by Mike Mercer with 54 seconds remaining in the half. The score stood at a surprisingly close 14-10 at halftime. Moreover, the Chiefs had outgained the Packers (181 yards to 164) and also led in first downs (11 to 9).

The Packers made the decision to blitz heavily in the second half, and it paid off with the play that turned the tide decisively in their direction early in the third quarter. The Chiefs had moved briskly to their own 49 yard line after taking the second half kickoff. Dawson’s pass intended for TE Fred Arbanas was tipped by the heavy pass rush and intercepted by safety Willie Wood, who returned it to the Kansas City five (pictured below). Elijah Pitts scored on the next play, and the Chiefs didn’t mount a threat for the rest of the game, punting after each of their last six possessions.

Green Bay scored twice more, on a 13-yard pass from Starr to McGee and a one-yard run by Pitts that made the final score 35-10. Most satisfying to many of the Packers was when brash CB Fred “The Hammer” Williamson, who had been a non-factor in the game, was knocked out of action on a power sweep by Donny Anderson.

When it was all over, the Packers outgained Kansas City, 358 yards to 239. Bart Starr (pictured below), the game’s MVP, completed 16 of 23 passes for 250 yards with two TDs and an interception. Jim Taylor was the game’s top ground gainer with 56 yards on 17 carries and a score, while Elijah Pitts ran for 45 yards on 11 attempts and two touchdowns. Max McGee had an outstanding day in place of Dowler, catching 7 passes for 138 yards and two TDs.

For the Chiefs, Len Dawson (pictured at bottom) tossed 27 passes and completed 16 of them for 211 yards with a touchdown and the big interception. The team had just 72 yards on 19 rushes, with Dawson the top ground gainer with 24 yards on three carries; Mike Garrett and Curtis McClinton had 17 and 16 yards, respectively, each on six runs. Chris Burford led the receivers with 4 catches for 67 yards, while Otis Taylor was right behind at 4 for 57.

Afterward, Vince Lombardi said, “In my opinion, the Chiefs don’t rate with the top names in the NFL. They are a good football team with fine speed, but I’d have to say NFL football is better.”

Willie Wood perhaps best summed up the feelings of the Packers players when he said, “We didn’t play any bush leaguers, and we were happy to accomplish what we did. You could probably hear the giant sigh of relief in the dressing room when the game was over.”

Hank Stram saw his team’s weaknesses exposed by Green Bay and began making upgrades in the offseason. The Chiefs didn’t return to the Super Bowl until the 1969 season, but when they did, the result was very different. Green Bay was back again in ’67, in what would be Lombardi’s last year coaching the team.